Norwich City’s quest to bag every last penny of Premier League prize money before the season finishes ended up with little more than a blank cheque from this weekend’s long-haul to Blackburn Rovers.
Goals either side of the interval from first Mauro Formica and then Junior Hoilett kept Rovers’ slim hopes of defying the drop alive as the Canaries found themselves stuck fast in 12th.
With £750,000 a place up for grabs, Paul Lambert’s summer spending plans could yet be so much the poorer if the Canaries simply wind down through the last three games of the season – kicking off with next weekend’s home clash against FA Cup finalists Liverpool.
They are all-but home and hosed, mathematically. For while Bolton could yet over-haul the Norfolk side, Norwich’s vastly better goal difference to the likes of QPR and Wigan should still see them home in the unlikely event that both the Rs and the Latics win their last three games of the season.
More importantly, should Bolton lose at Aston Villa on Tuesday night then the maths will be over. At best Wanderers could then only finish on 42 points; Rovers are already condemned to pin their hopes on 40 points being good enough to survive.
Either way, Norwich’s Easter Monday win at Spurs looks to have done the job with 43 points slapped on the board.
Not that City boss Lambert was taking much consolation from such sums. It wasn’t one of Norwich’s finer road-trips as those two strikes either side of the break put Blackburn in command of proceedings as the Canaries struggled to regain much of a foothold in the contest.
Grant Holt and Jonny Howson had chances; substitutes Anthony Pilkington and Aaron Wilbraham would catch the odd glimpse of Paul Robinson’s goal. But, in large part, it was a long and frustrating trip to Ewood Park for the Yellow and Green Army.
“It was a tough game for us, but I don’t think we ever got going,” admitted the Canary chief, unamused by the manner in which, for example, Morten Gamst Pedersen’s 40th minute cross whipped five City players out of the game and enabled an unmarked Formica to slot home.
Likewise Hoilett was allowed the time and the opportunity to drift across the Canary box before curling No2 into the top corner; lessons not learned from the corresponding fixture at Carrow Road.
“We had a lot of the ball in the first-half, but we gave away two silly goals,” said Lambert.
The second ripped the wind from Norwich’s sails as the manager’s best-laid plans at the break suddenly went AWOL.
“That lad has scored a wonder goal against us at Carrow Road – and he’s a danger,” the Canary chief told the BBC afterwards.
“It was a great strike – don’t get me wrong. But we have got to close the ball down better than that. And then the horse has bolted.”
Always one for the selection surprise, Lambert threw James Vaughan back into the fray from the start as he made a clutch of changes from the side that lost 6-1 at home to title-hopefuls Manchester City last weekend.
Alas, nothing quite dropped for the injury-plagued striker on his return to front-line duty and Lambert was left to take solace from his side’s achievements over the course of the full season as opposed to their lack of prizes from an away day in Lancashire.
“The effort was there – I couldn’t fault it,” he said. “But if you’re looking for a performance it wasn’t there on the day for some reason and there’s not many times that I’ve said that this season. You just re-group and go again next week.”
They couldn’t recreate Spurs (a) every week.
“We hit a level there that was really, really high. But I can’t fault the lads. They have given me everything this year.”